LEWISTON – Doug Varone and Dancers, resident company at New York’s famed 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center, appeared Saturday at Bates Dance Festival, performing two repertory pieces and two excerpts from a developing work.
Doug Varone’s choreography is finely drawn and operatically rich, each dancer a thread woven exactly where it ought to be, into a whole that is luxuriantly textured and dimensioned.
It does what every choreographer hopes for: to draw emotional and psychological response based solely on the wordless expression that allows dance to, sometimes, say more than can be verbally articulated.
The dancers’ prowess is expressed not in acrobatic virtuosity, but in a level of artistry made possible by surpassing strength enriched with technical and emotional maturity.
In “Boats Leaving,” eight dancers spread across the borders of the stage in glowing blue light, a suspended separation that was repeated later to frame the piece, with varying darkness. From there, they moved thoughtfully and collectively, with an ineffable stillness even in motion.
Poses were held, such as a mid-walk handshake, and the dancers moved each other in subtle placements and lifts. Several times, they stood over a fallen dancer, in restrained postures of grief and, perhaps, confusion. Transitions were so smooth they were easy to miss. One moment the dancers were entwined on the floor; the next, they were on their feet in an interlocked sculptural formation.
Their muted everyday-wear costumes by Liz Prince glowed in lighting by Jane Cox, underlining the contrast between exterior ordinariness and spiritual individuality.
“Boats” seems to be about community: people coming together and parting, striving and struggling, cooperating, clashing and grieving. Significantly, it is danced to “Te Deum” by Arvo Part, a celebrated composer who, since leaving Soviet Estonia in 1980, has focused on setting sacred texts like this one.
“Glass” and “Egalite” were performed as previews of the quotation-inspired “Chapters from a Broken Novel,” with an original score by David Van Tieghem.
“Glass” was inspired by the line “Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now” from Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” It began with Ryan Corriston and Netta Yerushalmy pulling and pushing at one another, never quite separating but never quite coming together.
They finally joined in odd, conflicted embraces and lifts, and an entwined roll on the floor, but their separation afterward seemed inevitable.
“Egalite” was inspired by writer Elizabeth Bowen’s “The intimacy of women begins with revelation and ends in small talk.”
To delicate music like ringing bells, Julia Burrer and Natalie Desch danced complementary but contrasting movement suggestive of friends meeting, with each speaking her own story. Eventually their steps merged and they touched, but only briefly. Finally, they knelt with circling arms, to the recorded murmur of many voices speaking at once.
The program concluded with “Lux,” choreographed to “The Light,” a lushly saturated orchestral work by Philip Glass.
A single dancer explored space and his own physicality in front of a low, orange moon. As the moon rose imperceptibly, he was joined by seven others in constant movement of leaps, spins and lifts, punctuated by vignettes like one dancer’s series of beats, or the tapping steps of another.
With the moon halfway up the sky, one dancer performed puckish convoluted spins in silhouette. In the beam of the fully risen moon, the piece closed with the original soloist alone in a stream of light amid darkness.
Doug Varone and Dancers will return to Maine in February, as part of Portland Ovations’ upcoming season.
Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer, teacher, musician and dancer who lives in Saco.